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The Aborigines

Not even recognized in the Australian Constitution for many years, the indigenous people of Australia have suffered over the past two hundred years of European settlement. From the late 1800s to mid 1900s, many Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents. These children became known as the ‘“Stolen Generation”:’ and in February 2008, the new Labor government formally apologized on behalf on previous governments for this practice.

There is a clear gap between indigenous Australians and other Australian citizens in areas such as health, education, crime, unemployment and drug use with indigenous Australians faring much worse. The 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of Records named the aboriginal settlement of Palm Island off the coast of Queensland the most violent place on Earth outside a combat zone, with a murder rate 15 times higher than the state of Queensland.

Despite the trials indigenous Australians face, they maintain a rich culture: art and music are popular forms of expression and Australia’s creation myth is the Aboriginal ‘Dreamtime’, the Dreamtime stories explaining (among other things) how Australia was made. Apparently, a huge snake called the rainbow serpent formed the Outback’s mountains and gorges… proving you don’t need marijuana to have a good imagination.

Australians’ attitudes towards Aboriginals vary widely: many believe they are good-for-nothing, methylated spirits swilling ne’er-do-wells who receive preferential treatment from the Government and have become welfare dependant because of it; others believe it is more of a root cause problem stemming from the breakdown of traditional culture.

You probably will see your fair share of drunk Aboriginals in the street and as many of them are good deal taller than you, it can be a scary experience. Once they understand that you’re not an Australian and not a racist things should be easier though.

Aboriginals and South Sea Islands (more on them later) often have strong family units and if you are invited to a family gathering, you’re in for an experience. Seafood is a favorite and under special circumstances, Aboriginals can hunt otherwise protected species such as turtle and dugong. If you are offered such delicacies, politely declining will probably be taken in good humor. Declaring your commitment to the sustainability of our oceans and disgust with all people who hunt the creatures therein would be considered quite rude, however, as you might imagine.

A true, authentic tribal Aboriginal experience is unlikely – in fact, it might have already been lost to history. The corroborees, boomerang displays and stories of the Dreamtime are more likely to be put on for tourists nowadays than for any other reason. In remote parts of Australia, some tribes may still use their own language and cling to the traditional ways, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

You might still find an Aboriginal with a thorough knowledge of bush tucker* who’s prepared to accompany you into the Outback, however. You may end up eating goanna, snake, wallaby, witchity grubs and various nuts and seeds, but that’s just part of the fun.

Torres Strait Islanders are a distinct ethnic group but are still considered indigenous Australians. The descendants of South Sea Islanders, indentured to work as laborers on the sugar cane farms of Queensland, can be found in towns on Queensland’s eastern seaboard. South Sea Islanders have their own culture and their contribution to the community is evident in many Queensland towns. They are also especially good football players so if you find yourself in a game of park footy with them, prepare to be humiliated.

Jamie McGraw